How to Help a Grieving Child

By Marcia Hall

As too many adults now know, children are not always safe from harm, and they are definitely not safe from grief.  Grief for a child comes in many forms and for many reasons.  Sometimes it can be triggered by a horrific event, like a school shooting, even though the child did not personally know anyone lost.  Other times it’s triggered by something closer to home, where the child loses someone they knew well and cared about.  More often, however, grief for a child is triggered by the little things that adults rarely think about.  No matter what the cause, healing from that pain is necessary for the child to feel secure once again.  Parents can help children through the healing process.

Embrace the child’s grieving process.  Every person has a different way of showing emotion.  Some people keep busy to distract themselves, while others want to sit and do nothing.  Some are introspective while grieving, while others need to talk about the event that sparked the grief with a lot of people.  There is nothing wrong with any of these emotional methods.  Children’s grief often takes on a process that adults don’t understand.   Parents need to allow their child to talk when he feels like talking and stay silent when he wants to.  They need to allow the child to distract himself from the grief with play or chores, but also to rest when he needs too.  If the child needs to cry, sit and cry alongside him.  Sometimes that is the best way to help heal a broken heart.

Model healthy grieving for the child.  Parents often hide their own sadness in order to protect their children from feeling that sadness too.  The truth is that a child needs to see that his parents get sad sometimes as well.  Otherwise, when he feels upset about something, he will think that the best way to handle his sadness is to retreat from people and hide how he feels.  He may interpret the adults hiding their sorrow with his own feelings of shame and fear.

Don’t hide the story.  Events like the Sandy Hook shooting cause parents to wonder how much information a child should have regarding a horrific event.  While it is possible to give a sensitive child too much information, it is best to share at least some of the story to control the initial message he receives.  This is especially true in situations where a tragedy is widely known and children will inevitably overhear at least part of the story.  Often parents of younger children believe their child is too self-involved to hear what is being said.   However, children understand far more than parents usually realize.   It takes just a second for a child to overhear something on the news or in a phone call.  Perhaps they simply sense the tension in the house and figure out that something is wrong.  When parents hide the story, children use their imaginations to figure out what they don’t know.  Often, children blame themselves in some way for the stress, sadness or anger parents feel.

Choose comments wisely.  Telling the story is important, but it is also vital that parents comfort their child at the same time.  What is said to comfort him has a great deal to do with what parents believe in as far as faith and religion goes.  However, there are some universal themes that are important to keep in mind.  A child should know that if he has questions or concerns he can come to his parents at any time.  Parents should do the best they can to answer those questions and comfort those concerns by communicating that they are doing everything in their power to keep him protected and safe.

Find a way to help.  Sometimes taking action can help the healing process.  When a child hears about a sad or difficult event, help him to discover a way that he can make a difference.  This allows him to see that, while he may not be able to stop bad things from happening, there is a way to recover, heal and make things better.

No parent looks forward to sharing sad news with their child, but the manner that children receive the information can help to begin the healing process.  Children will need to learn to work through their sadness in healthy and effective ways.  The only way children will learn to heal is if they experience grief when they are young and have loving people in their lives to help them work through it.

5 Reasons to Play with Your Child More

By Marcia Hall

At the end of a long day many parents don’t have the energy to pull out a board game, put together a construction set or sit on the ground and play with dolls.  With having to cook dinner, clean the dishes, fold the laundry, answer the phone and take out the garbage, spending time with your kids can end up on the bottom of the evening’s list.  After all, the rewards for finishing the household chores are obvious and immediate. However, the effects of spending time playing with your children are just as real and will certainly last longer.

Through play children learn how to cooperate and share with others.  The only way a child learns to share and play nice with others is through observation and interaction with people.  Play is a great opportunity to show by example how to work with someone else even when you don’t agree with them.  While playing with your child, do not shy away from disagreements and do not always let your child have her way.  Help her learn to cooperate with others by having to figure out how to cooperate with you. Role playing can teach a child lessons that are difficult to teach through conventional means.

Playing with mom or dad meets the need for attention children have in a positive way.  Children may act out with negative behaviors because for some reason they are in need of attention.  When this need for attention is not met in a positive way, the child will begin to look for other ways to get that need met. This could be through behaviors like not following directions, doing things he has been told not to and even hitting.  Playing with your child will feed his very real need for attention and will help to make the “acting out” behaviors less frequent.

Parents will learn to understand and respect the challenging perspectives of their child.  There are many ways parents disagree and argue with their children.  In heated moments it is very easy to misunderstand a child and her opinion.  Playing with a child helps parents gain more of their child’s perspective.    Through time spent together parents can understand why a child might act in such strange ways or at least soften their hearts to not be quite as irritated.

Parents will understand to a greater degree the pressures their child is facing every day.  During lighthearted play a child will often let out her greatest worries and concerns.  It might be very difficult for her to verbalize why she is worried about a particular problem but often times those feelings reveal themselves when she plays.  During playtime parents should listen closely to these cues and use the playful atmosphere to reassure and comfort her.

Time spent together in play helps a child connect and get to know his parents.  Life moves fast.  Parents often say “It seems like he was just my little baby and now look how big he is.”  Parents will never look back at their life and say “I should have kept the dishes cleaner” or “I should have answered my phone more.”  However, if parents don’t take the time out of their busy lives to play with and engage their child, some pretty amazing opportunities might be missed. This time together not only helps parents understand, support and love their child more, but it will help the child know the parent to a greater degree which will help him become a well-balanced and emotionally whole adult